BIA Denies Appeal, Wilton Rancheria Wins Skirmish in Elk Grove Casino War

Assemblymember Jim Cooper (l), Wilton Rancheria Chairman Raymond Hitchcock, and former Elk Grove Mayor Gary
Davis at the February 14, 2017 ceremony announcing the tribes purchase of 35.9-acres for the proposed $400 million casino.

July 18, 2017 |  

A little over one year ago, former Elk Grove Mayor Gary Davis and the Wilton Rancheria held a community information session to discuss plans for their then recently unveiled plans to build a $400 million casino resort on the site of the unfinished Outlet Collection at Elk Grove shopping center.

In the course of the two-hour plus meeting, many questions were asked and opinions voiced. One question fielded by Wilton Rancheria Chairman Raymond "Chuckie" Hitchcock was when will the facility open.

Acknowledging the long road awaiting the tribe, Hitchcock said it would take anywhere from five to seven years from then. 

In one of the early battles between the tribe and a group opposing the casino organized by Stand Up For California! (SUFC),  the Wilton Rancheria won what is expected to be one of several battles fought over the controversial project. That victory came in a ruling issued on Thursday, July 13 by Michael S. Black Acting Assistant Secretary - Indian Affairs, U.S Dept. of Interior.

The administrative ruling issued by Black denied SUFC's appeal seeking to reverse the January 2017 decision to place the 35.9-acre parcel the tribe purchased from the Howard Hughes Corporation into federal trust. Putting the parcel, which is not on tribal land, into federal trust is a requirement for the project to proceed.

SUFC California had argued that former Assistant Secretary, Indian Affairs Lawrence S. Roberts had improperly placed the parcel into federal trust in the waning hours of the Obama administration. Black rejected the argument that Roberts acted beyond his authority pursuant to the Federal Vacancies Reform Act.

The news of the decision was met with guarded optimism by Hitchcock who again implied the project has other hurdles to overcome.

“This was just another small hurdle on our path toward self-sufficiency,” Hitchcock said. “This decision solidly confirms the placing of land into federal trust was valid and that we have every right to continue forward with our economic development plans.”   

Since the project was first presented on a large-scale basis a little over one year ago, it has been a lightning rod of controversy in Elk Grove. The issue has pitted a vocal group of residents opposing the placement of the casino within city limits against Mayor Steve Ly, most of the City Council, as well as the city's executive staff.

City officials have highlighted the economic benefits the project will bring to the community. Among them are the construction jobs for the project and up to 2,000 new jobs at the casino.

Opponents have focused on the appropriateness of locating the casino near neighborhoods and schools, and societal costs. Among the most often cited are the ill-effects of gambling and other vices associated with casinos including prostitution. 

In spite of the dismissal, Cheryl Schmit of SUFC said it does not damage any of their arguments going forward. Schmitt also said she does not believe the BIA followed federal laws or regulations. 

"The proposed casino by the Las Vegas-based Boyd Gaming and the Wilton Tribe raise a mire of irregularities in the federal process of the National Environmental Protection Act, The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act and substantial issues in the Administrative Procedures Act," Schmit said. "The dismissal of the administrative appeal does not change or damage any of our arguments going forward."

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